Senate Not Clear With N2Bn Justice Ministry Demand For Legal Services In 2021 

Tunde Bakare

The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, on Monday November 9, questioned officials of the Ministry of Justice over N2 billion it proposed to spend on legal services in 2021.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Akpata; as well as other officials of the ministry appeared before the committee to defend their 2021 budget proposal.

The ministry had proposed that the sum of N2billion would be required to pay for legal services and was listed under overheads in the document submitted to the committee.

The Ministry listed the legal services to include civil litigation, prison decongestion, trial and prosecution of Boko Haram; administration of criminal justice system and payment for international legal obligations.

However, Sen. Ajibola Basiru, a member of the committee, and Chairman, Committee on Media and Publicity, raised questions over the figure.

He stated that the N2 billion proposed for legal services was not clear enough to avail auditors at the committee for the purpose of exercising its oversight functions

“We need to know how much is being projected for civil litigation, for prison decongestion and all other items. Also, there appears to be an overlap with what has been provided for the sum of about N2 billion for generated items under overhead cost and some of the items listed as capital expenditure

“For instance, there is provision of N350 million for administration of criminal justice in Page 4. What is the relationship between that N350 million budgeted and the projected sum under the heading of legal services in the overhead cost proposal?

“The same thing with the issue of prison decongestion. If you look at the capital expenditure proposal; the sum of N380 million was highlighted for prosecution of prison inmates and decongestion of correctional centres nationwide.’’

Responding, the Solicitor-General, Akpata told the Senate that the proposed N2 billion would be used for civil litigation. He said that the amount was “a tip of the iceberg of what it intends to do’’ on civil litigations and cannot be compared with what it is now saving from government.’’

“Presently, the last performance we had, we saved more than N600 billion because we now do cases in-house.

“So, part of this N2 billion is essentially to get the lawyers because all the cases are spread among the 36 states. The trial and prosecution of Boko Haram: you will recall that in 2019; we had to create a jurisdiction, a division in Kanji Dam in which 3, 000 inmates were prosecuted.

“How do you prosecute 3, 000 inmates in a place? We had to bring four judges from the Federal High Court, and pay the legal aides.

“When we look at the N2 billion, it’s a tip of the ice berg of what it intends to do.

‘‘Presently, there is a camp in Maiduguri where we are going for another prosecution. This is what the N2 billion is going to do. So, there is no overlapping. When you now look at the specific activities of the N2 billion, they are separate and distinct from what you think.’’

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